Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Sacrificial Flame at 99 Cents … for now!

This week, Tourmaline Books has decided to reduce the ebook price of Sacrificial Flame to just 99 cents! 

I once said that this is the book I am most proud of in the series and the other books got terribly offended. But in many ways it is. I think in terms of pace, plot threads, and the introduction of so many new characters, this book is my best so far.

It begins a whole new story line, so there is no need to have completed the previous three books. The novel has a 4.9 rating on Amazon from 24 reviews. Well enjoy, I guess. I am not sure how long it will stay at this price – I was surprised myself.

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Here are five reviews from Verified Purchasers, from Amazon’s higher ranks of reviewers. I know none of these people, but if any of you are reading – thank you for your generous reviews:

Marley – Wonderful, wonderful story! Loved the characters, especially the children. Couldn’t put it down. A must read for anyone who loves epic fantasy. Shalev has it all – great writing, a wonderful world populated by dwarves, elves, humans and some great new races.

Lorax – Shalev has the flair of a great story teller, sometimes rushing head-on, at others, holding back in a disciplined restraint. His pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and polished presentation engage the reader throughout.

S. Cook – Mr. Shalev brings a tremendously exciting story to life with characters that are too good to leave on the page. This was a really surprising find for me and I’m now hooked on this series. The story telling and descriptive writing style make this book a true page-turner, great for someone wanting to lose themselves in a book for a while. This is exactly the type of book I like reading on the train on my way to and from work – Interesting, intricate, fun and intelligent. You have to read Mr. Shalev! You won’t be disappointed!

Alia The Kindle Lover – Alon does it again!! So glad I found this series, it continues to blow me away!! If you’re looking for a true, good fantasy series, you absolutely will find it in Wycaan Master!! Well done!!

Amy -While I will try to keep this review spoiler free, there are three books prior to this so please be prepared to be spoiled on those. The original trilogy took us on the adventure of Seanchai growing into the Wycaan master to face down the evil emperor. We met exciting new races and loved and lost with the protagonists. (Did an author really kill a main character? Could he actually be so realistic about the harsh world of revolution?) Now we have jumped a decade forward as peace has settled across Odessiya and Seanchai has become a father. 

If you do read Sacrificial Flame, please post a review on Amazon and let me know what you think.

Thank you,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3,  Sacrificial Flame, and the latest: From Ashes They Rose, all released by Tourmaline Books. 

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including The Accidental Activist and  Unwanted HeroesHe swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter  (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Goodreads.

I Felt The Earth Move

I felt the earth move and not in the way that we Californians usually associate the word or what the rest of you are thinking – admit it! I had a literary orgasm and I had not just finish reading erotica. I actually had just finished Patrick Rothfuss’ second book – The Wise Man’s Fear.

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After I read his first novel – The Name Of The Wind – I gave it an enthusiastic 5 star review. After I finished the second book, I wrote: This is as close as I have ever come to giving six stars. There were moments when the complexity of the societies that Rothfuss writes left me amazed. As an author I feel he has raised the bar for me in a way I have not felt in years. Truly inspiring.

I really wanted to give the second book six stars but Amareads/Goodzon wouldn’t let me. I have never felt like this before, so completely in awe of a novel.

Rothfuss breaks the rules. The ‘experts’ (those who are and those who think they are) tell us that our novels must plunge straight in, that we must have a fast pace, that we should minimize backstory, and focus on plot, plot, plot!

Despite loving his books, I only now went to his blog to read the announcement about a future movie, television series, video game, and recipe book. Okay, I embellished about the recipe book, but who knows?

Somewhere in the middle of the blog post, Rothfuss wrote the following about why he was skeptical that Hollywood could put his books onto screens:

“Pretty much every fantasy movie created so far has been an action movie, or plot centered, or both. And my books aren’t like that. My books are about the characters. They’re about secrets and mysteries and the hidden turnings of the world.”

At this point, the heavens opened, a bright ray of sunshine beamed down accompanied by harp music. I had an epiphany!

I love my characters. I really do. I worry for them when they face danger, I grieve for their failings and I cry when they die. I have dreamed of meeting them and even imagined I met my protagonist at Starbucks – yes there was an extra shot in the Frappawhatzit.

While I have never been accused of a slow pace or lack of emphasis on plot, most of what the editors cut is character development rather than world-building or plot. I would like to share more of my characters, and discover with the reader their multifaceted personalities.

But this does not work in our fast-paced world with our nano-second attention span. We are apparently listening to our readers and what they want.

Thankfully, Pat Rothfuss (may I call you Pat?) was totally negligent in listening to these naysayers, or he just followed his muse. And he has proved that if a magical realism or fantasy novel is written well and rich in texture, it does not have to be like every other book.

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Before I embark on rewriting the manuscript for the 6th Wycaan Master novel, I am taking a few weeks to enter the corrections and suggestions that my writers group has given me over the last year for a magical realism novel I whipped up one day (or half-year).

I am noticing that my own corrections are adding depth in a way that I have not done before and I think, no I know, I am being influenced by Rothfuss’s two novels. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery. I am not copying his style, but he has left a deep impression on me and I am sure many other authors and writers.

Thank you, Pat. I hope you are as flattered as I am grateful. And thank you to everyone who helped make the launch of From Ashes They Rose a success. I couldn’t do it without you … literally! I am sincerely grateful.

Book 5 Cover FINAL

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

An Author Needs His Hat

“So, what’s with the hat?” The question came from a young man in the back row of the small (but thankfully packed) room.

I had been fielding questions about plot, world-building, characters, building a series, and on being a writer, so this caught me off guard. My bad. It was not the first time I had received such a question. I was reminded of this when a twitter follower graciously allowed me to finish the day with a smile this week, posting that he couldn’t ignore a book written by an author with such a great hat. Thank you, sir.

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So, what is with the hat? I was wearing it when my sons and I wrote those first words deep in a redwood forest in 2010. Sitting at a campsite picnic table, I brandished my snow-white keyboard, doffed my hat and wrote: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…

Okay, I’m getting carried away. I actually opened At The Walls of Galbrieth with the words: The screams pierced his dreams and… Every summer since, I have read the next manuscript to my sons while camping, and while wearing my hat.

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Reading Book 6 to my toughest critics in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Though I feel a great connection between hat and story, none of my characters actually wear a hat in the novels. Maybe I connect to it because I would simply feel too self-conscious walking around the San Francisco Bay Area with a heavy, hooded cloak and staff with the exception perhaps of Halloween.

Ironically, I am not much of a hat-wearer. Traveling to the East Coast in winter warrants a hat, and the same one I wear for camping, sits aloft my head as I fly fish. I am sure the trout take careful note of my headgear since they totally ignore my fly.

But now I have begun to take notice. The professor wore his tweed hat though not in his ancient Oxford study. Sir Terry Pratchett RIP had his splendid black fedora (hope I’m getting the title right). And I have seen other fantasy authors on twitter handles, websites, and Wanted posters.

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Neil Gaiman, in his wonderful tribute to Sir Terry, described their first meeting thus: The author, a former journalist, has a hat, but it’s a small, black leathery cap, not a Proper Author Hat. Not yet.

So here is my Wycaan Master books series by hat. Please feel free to click on each to see which book the photo features on (we used the same for Books 3 + 4).

Bookcover Trees copyBookcover Snow copy                                                                         Bookcover Ocean copyAuthor Photo Book 5 copy

Are you a fantasy author with a hat to show? Feel free to leave photo and link to your books in the comments.

Here’s to authors in hats. May our heads be ever covered, our pages full of words, and our minds ever brimming with imagination!

We are now less than two weeks from the release of From Ashes They Rose (October 1.). So please, consider investing $2.99 to preorder the ebook version. Maybe one day you can point out nonchalantly to friends over a deep red Merlot that you helped that best selling author when he was still a struggling writer.

How could I forget...

How could I forget…

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released October 1, 2015. The story continues.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

A Damning Tribute to George R.R. Martin

This tribute is a rewrite of a previous post written in honor of the launch tonight of HBO’s fifth series.

Dear Mr. Martin,

Let me begin by saying I’m a big fan. I’ve read all five books and, if that isn’t proof enough, I can’t wait for Book 6 (hint, hint). I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I want to make sure I still have your attention).

It’s like this, sir. One day when I grow up (I’m only 50-teen) I want to be a bestselling epic fantasy author like you. My fifth book comes out in the fall and I have sold more books as you’ve killed noble characters (I think!).

I spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers: online and (I know this is rare) actually in person. Everyone tells me to “observe the rules,” “don’t break the conventions,” and, my favorite, “Tolkien was one-of-a-kind. You wouldn’t get away with that.”

But you, sir, break all the rules, tippexed (anyone?) over the conventions. One friend suggested you only get away with it because you’re already famous, have a huge following, and probably don’t care anymore what anyone outside of the Seven Kingdoms thinks.

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So here is my list of 10 things you have done wrong:

1. Your books are too long. I keep getting told that 90K is way beyond the commitment that most readers are willing to invest today. But then why do I enjoy your tomes (and Christopher Paolini, and J.K Rowlings, and some unknown ancient language, Oxford professor) and feel a sense of loss when they are finished?

2. Your books are too slow. People want action, action, action. Instant gratification …debate in 140 characters or less. Have a car chase or blow up a bridge – well, you get my point.

3. Your books are too detailed. You mean I need to think? Concentrate? Invest? I hear you keep flow charts in your office – can we peek? How about a deal with Cliff Notes or an app that you can enter a character, your book and page number and get an update. Dude – I totally expect a commission on the app idea.

4. Your characters are too flawed (especially the good ones). If I’m not seeing Ryan Gosling or Kristen Stewart then it simply won’t do. If I want real people, I would put my book down and hit the pub.

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5. Your characters are too dead. I actually wrote a blog post about this (I Need A Hero), keeping the book and you anonymous so as not to spoil it. Guess what? Everyone knew who I was talking about.

6. You drop some characters for hundreds of pages – are you tempting me to skip pages, sir? Just so as not to spoil this for any readers on Books 1-4, you know what I mean when I connect this to Book 4//5.

7. You miss out key scenes – battles in particular – and subtly let us know they have happened. I know it is incredibly difficult to write battles and only the best can pull it off, but well sir, you are one of the best.

8. You have too many minor characters. I hope you are keeping track of them because, to be honest, I am developing a habit of scratching my head whenever someone resurfaces 1-2,000 pages later.

9. You care more for the old gods and the new than the critics.

10. Your books are too addictive. I can’t stop…

You broke all the rules, sir. Congratulations! I can’t wait for the first episode of Book Five tonight … not to mention Book 6 …Oops! Are there any Starks left?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes.He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

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I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

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I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

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The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

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The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Best Advice Ever – If You Can Quit…

There is a legendary quote that is circulating the twitterverse and bloggersphere from epic fantasy giant, R. A. Salvatore. When asked to offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, he said:

If you can quit, you should do so. If you can’t quit, you are a writer.”

I accidentally came across the interview with the quote. The interview is by Brian Stern (thank you, sir) and the first 20 minutes in particular are, in my humble opinion, amazing. Here are the first 12 minutes. Hey, it’s Sunday! Take a break, make yourself a coffee, pour a glass of wine (or both, no one is watching) and give yourself at least 12 minutes for the first third.

Okay, I couldn’t resist. Here is the second 12 minutes.

It is amazing how Bob (may I call you Bob? I feel we’re pretty close after these interviews and having read about eight of your books) just becomes more enthusiastic with his characters as the series progresses. It feels like he truly pours all of himself into each book. What he wrote about his brother is simply stunning.

Something that I find fascinating is how he is challenged to find time to read and make his way through a series. He speaks about how authors influence each other and I think there is something very important here. I do feel that Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and more recently George R.R. Martin have had an influence on me. But I am not sure this is a bad thing.

Why not learn from the masters? Even if you are already a member of the elite fantasy A-list like Salvatore, are we not all trying to constantly improve?

Finally, here is the third and final part of the interview. There is a great part about the author’s interactions with his readers, something I discussed last week.

I know I only asked you for 12 minutes and gave you 36 minutes. I would apologize, but I don’t think actually feel sorry for doing this. Yeah, it’s 36 minutes you will never get back, but just maybe it will help and inspire you. Perhaps you just couldn’t quit!

But then if you cannot quit…read his books. Next time you go into a bookstore (yeah, they still exist), check out his amazing book covers. They are quite simply works of art. Amazing.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+